Most of us are creatures of habit. Whether it’s the kind of coffee we drink, certain foods we buy, or specific stores we shop in, we develop habits that have been reinforced by various experiences. The same goes for comics. I’ve never been much of a fan of Image Comics. There have been some great titles there (1963, A Touch of Silver, Shaman’s Tears, and Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, George Perez’s Crimson Plague, Alan Moore’s Supreme to name a few) but nothing to really keep me coming back. Of course, economics and tradition were some of the reasons that kept me trying their titles on a regular basis. I do tend to follow my favorite creators and/or my favorite characters — I’ve been in my time a DC Universe fan, a Marvel Zombie, and an Archie fanboy– and for the most part, Image never really captivated me. I would flip through an Image book or two at the store when I come in for my weekly fix to see if it was worth collecting, but as the above list show, those titles were very few and far between.
Marksmen, a limited series written by David Baxter with art by Javier Aranda and Gary Leach, colors by Jessica Kholine, and a striking cover by Tomm Coker, is another book I’ll add to my Image list.
The backdrop is a familiar one: a future dystopia, full of bleakness. A lone hero in armor comes to an abandoned town on a mission. He is attacked by strangers, saved by a different group of strangers, and learns there’s another war coming.
So what makes this story different? First, every character is appealing here. Even the bad guys have a hint of interest to them, making them more than just 2 dimensional bad guys. Second, there are very specific reasons of who everyone is and why they think the way they do. That’s not easy in the first book. Third, and this is what really grabbed me is that David Baxter is mashing together two distinct genres – science fiction and westerns – and does a great job of blending them together. The lone hero rides into town on a horse called Trigger and befriends a dog in the town that he eventually gives another familiar name. It’s these little touches make the story very enjoyable. There’s also a running theme of religion versus technology introduced in this issue that I hope gets explored more in future issues.
But more than that – and this emphasized to great affect by the art of Javier Aranda and Gary Leach – is the huge scope of the story. We get several long shots of fallen cities, and western panoramas that re-inforces the idea that this story affects everything on earth. Many stories tell us this, but very few stories really show it as effectively as these two gifted artists do. Like the writing, they jump between genres flawlessly, making me think I’m watching a well-edited movie instead of reading a comic. The artists have also strived to make each character unique looking, something that’s not so easy with a cast this large.
The other element of this book that needs an accolade is the coloring. Jessica Kholine does an amazingly understated yet effective coloring job on this entire story. I have issues with the overreliance on digital coloring effects that some think “add” to the story. Jessica avoids the need for these tricks, and succeeds where another colorist might take shortcuts. The end result is a consistent, great looking book.
I do have some minor issues: the swearing, which is more of a personal thing; the violence, where the dismembering visuals seem to have appeal to some, but not me; the clichéd pasts of some of the characters, which maybe should have been built up a little more before being dropped in our laps; and the lead character’s potential love interest, who looks a little too perfect for someone running from an army in the desert. But overall, these are minor quibbles.